Jennifer works for a large, successful, and well-known American company. She speaks English without an accent and spends her spare time with her telescope, looking up at the stars. She loves astronomy, cooking, and spending time at her church.
At first glance, you’d never guess her story.
Jennifer’s parents knew each other for almost a month before they got married. They were introduced by their parents, who arranged the marriage itself. It was Communist Romania in the second half of the 20th century, and such situations were common.
Poverty, scarcity, and strict government regulations meant that just about everything was rationed out. Each month, the young couple was allowed just two kilos (about 4.4 pounds) of chicken and two kilos of pork, and each of them could get one liter of oil and one kilo (about 2.2 pounds) of sugar.
Food wasn’t the only scarcity Jennifer’s parents faced. Space was scarce—ten people shared an unheated 2-bedroom apartment, with two sleeping in one bedroom, three in another, and five on the living room floor. They had running water only two or three times a week, and the natural gas the family used for cooking was piped in inconsistently. When the natural gas was turned off, Jennifer’s parents would have to go over to the neighbors’ house to cook dinner.
Even transportation was scarce. Gasoline was hard to come by country-wide and was strictly rationed: people could only drive their cars for two weeks out of every month. To ensure this, the government would take down license plate numbers and keep track of how frequently people drove. The family had to keep to a careful schedule of when they could drive.
When Jennifer’s family lived in Romania, they shared everything because they had so little. There was love and valued cultural traditions, but there were also strict rules and hunger and social dangers. So Jennifer’s parents made the choice to try to come to America.